Adventures in Recovery

A Q&A with global traveler Jacqueline Clarke

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
4 min readFeb 6, 2024

This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

Jacqueline Clarke on a camel in Morocco in 2023.

For 40 years, Jacqueline Clarke has been defying the misguided fear that living without alcohol and other drugs is boring. Since initiating her recovery in 1984 after seeing an article about the Betty Ford Center in a national magazine, the former business executive has dedicated the remainder of her life to helping others and embarking on travel adventures throughout the world. In fact, we checked in with her just a couple days before she departed from her home in Florida to the United Arab Emirates. She has visited 90 countries so far and, thanks to the universal accessibility of Twelve Step meetings, says she’s been able to connect with others in recovery almost everywhere.

What does recovery look like for you, and how has it empowered different aspects of your life?

Recovery has changed my attitude and outlook on everything. I was always serious, basing my self-esteem on what I accomplished professionally. I was always an extrovert and made friends easily in school, but once I got married and started a career, my life became limited to my job, my husband and four cats. I was so consumed with proving my professional ability, I had to drink myself to sleep for years to stop worrying about business decisions. Alcohol is a depressant, and I started feeling depressed and having blackouts — thought I was going crazy. In recovery, I realized I wasn’t what I did but who I was in relationship to all of the wonderful friends I have made in and out of Twelve Step rooms.

In your travels around the world, what insights have you gained about humanity that enrich your recovery?

When I traveled for work, my contact with others was always related to my job; I rarely developed friendships with anyone I met because I was singularly directed. When I bonded with the women with whom I was in treatment, I realized how much I had been missing and how disconnected and self-absorbed I was. While in active addiction, I never asked anything about people’s personal lives. Today, my focus and interest when I meet people in the U.S. or abroad is to learn about their lives and cultures.

What are your experiences with finding and connecting with recovery community during your travels? And are there any particularly memorable experiences that stick with you?

I have lived in the Washington, DC, area; California; Hawaii; and Florida in recovery, and have bonded with many friends, most in recovery, because of the fellowship and my learned transparency. I have also met amazing people in Twelve Step meetings in Spain, Italy, France, and other countries by simply searching the Internet ahead of time for meeting times and locations. I go to meetings on cruise ships and meet others in recovery from all over the world. I have attended large annual recovery gatherings for nearly four decades, frequently bumping into friends met earlier at other places, when they had anywhere from 50 days to 50-plus years in recovery. I even bumped into a DC recovery pal at a meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on one of my trips.

What does it mean for you to be able to give back and share your recovery with others?

I am passionate about sharing my recovery with others and listening to their stories. Almost everything I’ve learned about being happy, I’ve learned since getting sober. One of my favorite sayings is, “Happiness isn’t getting what you want but wanting what you have.” It took me a while to replace the God of my misunderstanding with the unconditionally loving higher power I have in my life today. I love the expression “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”

The only way I know to express my gratitude for recovery is to try to help others stay sober and find the new attitude and outlook on life that comes with recovery. My husband, parents and many loved ones have passed since I got sober, but today I have an enormous recovery family.

The Sept. 24, 1984, issue of Newsweek that changed Clarke’s life by inspiring her to seek help.

Though you live across the country in Florida, you have made a point to visit the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for 39 consecutive years — spanning most of its entire existence. What does that annual pilgrimage mean to you?

The Betty Ford Center was my spiritual birthplace. I chose it after reading an article that included a quote from a former patient who had been there. She said she felt like she had a new lease on life and could start her life over again. That’s exactly what I wanted, and exactly what happened after I reached out for help soon thereafter. In the end, it wasn’t the circumstances I had to change; it was my perspective and perception. And today, no matter what is going on in my life in November, I need to revisit that birthplace to honor the experience I’ve had over the past 39 1/2 years — my new lease on life; not a second chance, but a whole new second life — and feel the gratitude and love I have for the Betty Ford Center and the wonderful staff who work there.

Jacqueline Clarke



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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